It will be another uncertain summer for Camp Brébeuf in Rockwood, Ont., as the Ontario government has yet to rule if camp programs will be allowed in the province this year. Photo courtesy Diocese of Hamilton

Camps facing another uncertain summer with lockdowns

By 
  • April 16, 2021

While a murky forecast for the 2020 summer camping season was expected with the unknowns surrounding COVID-19, organizations that operate day and overnight camps for Ontario youth never thought a similar script would play out a year later.

But that difficult scenario is materializing due to the third wave of the virus that has led to another province-wide lockdown.

Karen Stevens, director of operations for the Hamilton, Ont.-based Catholic Youth Organization (C.Y.O) and Camp Marydale, said the C.Y.O. met with one of the head provincial doctors March 30, walking away with the expectation that they would soon be armed with guidance to prepare to host April school-break camps.

“But instead the government put on the emergency brake, and now we’ve been told that we won’t get our guidance document telling us what to expect until June,” said Stevens. “Our industry as a whole is still planning for camps. We have to even though we know it will be last minute. And we are planning if we can run day and overnight camps.”

In 2020, the Government of Ontario made the difficult decision to axe overnight camping programs in the middle of May. Stevens says the C.Y.O. is hoping this isn’t repeated this year, but is well aware that COVID cases continue to escalate. Ontario reported a record high daily case count of 4,456 April 11.

“I don’t believe day camps will be shut down,” said an optimistic Stevens. “I think we will get to run sometimes and we won’t get to run sometimes depending on what is happening. The government has not officially declared a return to in-school learning. When they’ve shut schools before, they usually say it’s one weeks or two weeks. It’s open-ended this time.

“I feel like we would be allowed to do virtual programs until cases come down, but we just don’t know.”

C.Y.O. operates Camp Brébeuf in Rockwood, Ont., and Camp Marydale in Mount Hope, Ont. Last summer Camp Brébeuf was able to adapt to host day camp programming during August. Camp Marydale could not open at all as the jurisdictional COVID restrictions stipulated only 10 people could be on site, and that would not have been financially viable. Stevens said “close to 100 campers would need to be on site” for Camp Marydale to truly work in 2021.

Canada Summer Jobs wage subsidies were a boon for Camp Brebeuf last year, but Camp Marydale received no aid.

Stevens hoped the Ontario Camps Association’s (OCA) YouTube event on April 12 called “Come Light a Campfire: The Path Back to Camp” would attract a sizeable audience of kids, staff members and Ontario camp alumni. This pre-recorded 90-minute program, helmed by OCA president Heather Davidson, executive director Joy Levy and a host of other key individuals, was devised to provide insight on the steps being taken to ensure camps can operate in a responsible fashion. 

Levy said the organization’s task force “is working day and night to create guidelines for a safe 2021 camp season and to bring some hope back to the industry.”

Stevens said it would be great if the broadcast (available at ontariocampsassociation.ca) receives a large audience to signal to government how important summer camps are for the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of Ontario’s youth. The video had attracted 18,350 views by mid-April.

During an unscripted panel, Baysville, Ont.’s Camp New Moon co-founder Jack Goodman said, “we as the (OCA) feel duty bound to continue working towards getting camps in a position to deliver a careful, safe and responsible program for the summer.”

Goodman added that camp operators would be remiss if they weren’t “in a state of readiness” if the COVID restrictions are abated in late May and early June.

Substantial good news is needed in the months ahead for camp operators.

“It’s really disappointing that we are in the same unknown position as we were a year ago,” said Stevens. “Right now, we’re wondering if our agency can survive if we lose another overnight season.”

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